I keep hearing that modern SF/F is simply a recycling of old tropes. "There is nothing new under the sun" I keep hearing, "And you should not concern yourself with trying to be original. Just try to tell a good story." It is a point I keep trying to refute while getting back to my current WIPs which are a coming of age story, a post-apocalyptic rebellion and an alien invasion. Ummm.... At any rate, I'm not here to talk about my work, I'm here to talk about Richard Paolinelli's Escaping Infinity. And speaking of tropes, it involves one of my favorites. It's the story of our heroes becoming trapped in a maze (or in this case, hotel) and forced to find their way out. It echoes back to the stories of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth from Greek myth, Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Royale" and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's The Death Gate Cycle. This is one of the most popular tropes in SF/F for a reason: It's a hell of a lot of fun. And Escaping Infinity delivers.
I don't do spoilers, but I will say that there are enough surprises in this book to keep things moving. At one point, I actually had to check the page count to make sure the book wasn't going to end where I thought it was. It didn't. The feeling was there though, right up until reality smacked our MC right in his face. Paolinelli seems to live by the theory of "If things get too easy on your characters, drop a mountain on them." Things never get boring. You can never take a minute off. And quite frankly, if you're parked in your cab at two in the morning and reading this you're not going to get the nap you were planning on. Errr.... Don't ask how I know that.
As is often the case in these types of stories, the Infinity Hotel itself sounds like a place I'd love to visit. The amenities are apparently awesome. I don't even gamble and I want to see the casino. The park seems really nice... for the most part anyway. The staff certainly seems like a friendly group of people. It's a bit bigger than what I would expect for a hotel, but this is science fiction, right?
In many ways, this reads as two separate novels. One made up of the prologue and the last eighty or so pages, and one made up of everything in between. That's okay though. The transition from prologue to chapter one is a bit rough, but they often are. What comes between is a story that is sometimes awesome, sometimes wrenching and quite often surprising.
Peter Childress, our main character, is beset on all sides with questions he has to answer. Should he stay knowing that he will be happy in this fake place? Can he run away without his friend Charlie? How do you find an exit to a hotel with no doors? Should he keep fighting or give up? Who can I trust, if anyone? How big is this place? Why is it here? The more questions he asks, the deeper the mystery gets. The deeper the mystery gets, the further we get drawn in.
Probably the biggest question Paolinelli asks (and answers without getting preachy) is this: Who is responsible to clean up a massive mess after someone messes up? Is it the person who commits the act or is it his government? Should a person do what they can to make up for the fact that they have committed a horrible sin or should "society" be responsible for it? This isn't the question of "Who watches the watchmen?" It's the question of "I screwed up. Should I atone for it or should everyone else?" It's an interesting question and one that needs to be answered. For what it's worth, I think he comes up with the right answer. Of course, we don't all have the resources available to Paolinelli's ship captain but the point remains valid.
Equally as important is another question: Is it more important to do what's right or to follow society's rules? This is a question I've seen asked over and over again in fiction from Star Trek (Prime Directive anyone?) to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (Should I give this heroin addict a medicine to cure his addiction or let him suffer and possible die because it's not approved by the proper government agency?) Once again, I find myself agreeing with Paolinelli's answer. This is a lesson that many of us may need to take to heart in the coming months as the conversation over taking our rights away continues.
I know I mentioned ST:TNG episode "The Royale" earlier and the comparison fits in a lot of ways. Something I want to make clear here though is that this is not a carbon copy. The premise is very similar but the cast of characters and the solution to the puzzle are not even close to each other. Paolinelli does this his own way.
Having read and enjoyed Escaping Infinity though, I can't help but think that this should have been a series. There is enough story crammed into the last eighty-ish pages to fill at least two novels. I'm serious when I say that. I mean, obviously he would need to add a lot more detail to turn eighty pages into like five or six hundred but he has the talent to do it. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed the ending. I just wish it had been a lot longer because there is a lot there.
While I'm kvetching, I also ran across one part of the book that kind of threw me for a bit. I don't want to spoil to me much but Peter had a need to uhh... set trap at one point. The way he did it seemed to be well thought out and researched but honestly, where did Peter get this knowledge? The Infinity has no cell service or internet connection so that's right out. I found this part a bit puzzling. I know I'm being that guy here but if you've ever met a person who can build this kind of stuff, then you know they've spent a lifetime accumulating the knowledge. Childress is just like “Oh, that'll work.” I found myself scratching my head a bit here. Still and all though, I suppose it was plot-necessary and the rule of cool DOES apply here. And oh yes, it was cool. All in all though, the story was very entertaining and if I ended up wanting more that says good things about it.
Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Missed Naps
Tuscany Bay Publishing, 2017
Escaping Infinity is available at the link below:
PS: Richard Paolinelli is currently in the process of starting an organization of people who create Science Fiction and Fantasy. Anyone interested can find them here.